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Why Are Police Departments Asking Recruits About Sex, Cockfights, and Commies?

Other weird questions potential cops get asked: Done any hazing at a college frat? Ever lived in a foster home? And much more.

by Simone Weichselbaum
Oct 26 2018, 4:54pm

Fictional police recruits who somehow became cops. Photo by Scott Garfield © 2012 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. Image courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment

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The Oakland, California, Police Department has faced criticism for asking potential recruits whether they had ever been victims of sexual assault. This week, Mayor Libby Schaaf ordered the question be dropped as excessively invasive.

But a sampling of the background questionnaires required by police departments in several cities suggests that few corners go un-probed. And prospective cops are often warned that their answers may be checked with a polygraph.

“We ask for complete honesty,” said Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, spokesman for the Seattle Police Department, where applicants are asked, among other things, to disclose whether they have ever had sex in the workplace. “We know that people aren’t perfect. What we are looking for is honest disclosure and demonstrated ability for personal growth.”

Here are some of the questions would-be police can expect.



Cincinnati Police Department

“Not counting self-masturbation or legal sexual activity with a willing partner, what was your most unusual sex act?”

Metropolitan Nashville, Tennessee, Police Department

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of any communist organization(s) anywhere? If yes, explain in detail.”

“Have you ever called in sick because you were too hungover or drunk to go to work? If so, explain in detail.”

“Did you ever run away from home? If so, explain in detail.”

“Have you ever switched price tags or labels on any merchandise at any time in your life? If so, explain in detail.”

Albuquerque, New Mexico, Police Department

“Ever attended or participated [sic] any cock or dog fighting event?”

“Ever smuggled, transported or concealed illegal aliens?”

Richmond, Virginia, Police Department

“Have you ever placed a wager/bet by telephone, internet or made a hand-to-hand transaction with a bookmaker (bookie or numbers man) on the results of a professional or collegiate sports event, other than a legitimate lottery, or other legalized gambling event?”

“Have you ever been involved in any college, fraternity hazing/initiation incident/ritual/program?”

“Have you ever been involved in or participated in any parade, picket line delegation, or demonstration sponsored by any subversive organizations?”

“Given anything to anyone that was not yours to give away?”

Milwaukee Police Department

“Have you ever lived in a foster home. If yes, explain and give details (names, dates, addresses, etc.)

Seattle Police Department

“Have you ever engaged in sexual acts (including, but not limited to intercourse, oral sex, masturbation) with yourself and/or anyone while at work? If yes, please explain the circumstances.”

“In your lifetime, either as an adult or juvenile, have you ever committed a crime for which you were not caught?”

“List all incidents in which you were a defendant, complainant, or a witness in any criminal, civil, juvenile court proceeding, an administrative or investigative hearing by an City, County, State, Federal Agency or a Grand Jury other than in the performance of duties as a police officer.”

Port Authority of NY & NJ Police Department

“Have you ever resided in public housing or received federal housing subsidies (i.e. N.Y. housing authorities, Section 8, etc.?) If yes, please list.”

“Have you ever received financial public assistance? (i.e. welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.?) If yes, list.”

“List all membership to ANY type of social networking websites. Social network is defined as follows: A social structure made up of individuals or organizations that are tied together by values, visions, ideas, financial exchange, friendship, dating, relationships, kinship, likes, dislikes, conflict, trade, common ideas or principles.”

A version of this article was originally published by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the US criminal justice system. Sign up for the newsletter, or follow the Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.